Friday, March 4, 2016

Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered. Review

For such a nondescript work, untitled unmastered is anything but. Filled to the brim with ideas, content, and musical fidelity, these eight songs aren’t deserving of the treatment they’ve received. No titles, no care, not even an identifiable cover. And yet, to almost any other artist not named Kendrick Lamar, these are career-defining tracks. To him, they’re outtakes, B-sides, one-off performance pieces. A testament to Hip-Hop’s undeniable spearhead, untitled unmastered does away with excessive decadence in the wake of the mess caused by Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo. There is no flashiness on its facade, nor no grand showing as to how good the music is, it’s only eight tracks recorded during the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions that demand to be lauded. Throughout untitled unmastered, Lamar makes constantly aware of the growing distance between him and those around him, taking shots at trailing rappers, signifying the coming Judgement Day, all while unraveling more philosophical anomalies found nowhere else in popular Hip-Hop.

The demand for attention has risen steeply in the age of the Internet, where those on the frisk of notoriety call dead rappers bozos and wallow in chauvinistic tired tropes, while those already endowed with superstardom resort to memes for exposure. The standstill that Kendrick has caused in Hip-Hop communities with untitled unmastered has only proven the worth of bonafide greatness. After the initial awe of eight new songs arrived, more spoke on behalf of ‘untitled 3’s’ racial profiling or ‘untitled 8’s’ look upon facetious problems with income and happiness than anything surrounding the songs themselves. Kendrick gets people talking about movements, not trends. There’s even a clear indicator found on the small, experimental ‘untitled 4’ that posits exactly where Kendrick, and the HiiPower movement, believes worth resides. “Head is the answer, head is the future” a voice cries out, all while Kendrick whispers headily about those with devilish intentions of dissuading the youth. Money, religion, or the government aren’t going to solve yours, or the world’s, problems, but the head, the knowledge, the perception of wanting to know more, will. While a clear story as found on To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t present here, the impactful messages of disowning ignorance are.

On ‘untitled 7’ a list of desires runs through the intro. Love, drugs, fame, chains, juice, crew, hate are just some of those that “won’t get you high as this.” What’s this? As indicated by the declarative “levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate,” it’s wisdom in the face of incognizance. The fact that Kendrick can make a bonafide banger, with a flow that’s imperative to its success, while simultaneously boasting about something that isn’t frivolous is a showing to his value and dexterity. Those who need something that bumps in the whip found a loss when searching through To Pimp A Butterfly’s dense corridors, and now that ‘untitled 7,’ and even ‘untitled 1’ or '2,' have arrived, the criticisms that Lamar’s content-focused bars and intricately-layered Funk collages downplayed replay value can be put to rest. This EP is a fun, fun listen. From the nasally-rapped ‘untitled 2,’ with a creaky old-timey piano engulfed by bass, to ‘untitled 6,’ with intimate strings and brass that sound, unbelievably, like a Jim O’Rourke production, to ‘untitled 1,’ and it’s alarming G-Funk, complete with cataclysmic percussion, untitled unmastered provides spectacular contrast whilst all gallivanting under the same roof.

Despite only being 34 minutes, a shell of the monolith that was To Pimp A Butterfly, untitled unmastered still presents unmistaken cohesion. There are ups and downs, sometimes, often in fact, within the same song. Failing to escape the two minute mark ‘untitled 4’ still holds some drastic changes within it, thanks in large part to its minimal edifice to begin with. Tongue-twisted whispers from Lamar fit under catapulting voices, all before the production, with cartoonish synths and demeaning bass, turns into a cheesy 80’s slasher flick, if only for a moment. The same quips with intros and outros can be stated for multiple tracks here, like ‘untitled 1,’ beginning with a sexual rendezvous, finishing with a pompous bridge categorizing heedless youth. The biggest ill-advised outlier of this tactic though sees the entire second half of ‘untitled 7’ devolve into an acoustic set of cooky banter. It nearly reaches four minutes and stalls the EP’s momentum profusely. Not that it’s bad, just unnecessary, and if it wasn’t for the tongue-in-cheek aspect of it all it would veer dangerously close to Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven territory. The lighter elements it fosters does allow for a more seamless transition into ‘untitled 8’ though, an upbeat groove that sees the worth in life.

Another aspect of untitled unmastered is the addendum’s of each name, that being the date each track was recorded. Every piece of art has this date, so why does Kendrick find such meaningful discretion in them? As a look to the creation of To Pimp A Butterfly it’s interesting, but as a look to Lamar’s talents it’s invaluable. The famous, and lyrically complex ‘untitled 3’ was recorded only a mere few months after good kid, m.A.A.d. city, showing just how evolutionary Kendrick was becoming in not just his lyrics, but his production. Furthermore, if you picked contrasting tracks here based on feel they’d surprisingly likely be recorded together. ‘untitled 1’ and ‘4,’ ‘untitled 2’ and ‘6,’ and untitled ‘5’ and ‘8’ were all done within a two week span of each other, respectively. Likely just coincidence that sonically they’re all opposites, but it does show Kendrick’s headspace at the time and just how visionary he was seeing his work; jumping from one mood and setting to another in a week’s time. We just now have the question, with Kanye West still waiting to show us these 40 supposed Kendrick and Young Thug collabs, is this the direction we want to see artists going; revealing their vault works to please a feverish fanbase? With a Renaissance man like Kendrick Lamar, the answer is yes, with anyone else, the conclusion is still up in the air.

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